Canadian passport offices took two years to return to pre-COVID staffing

Good example of meaningless reporting with no context and adding nothing to existing articles flagging departmental business plans and union comments on the expected upsurge:

Have passport, will travel post-COVID.

Unless you live in Canada where it took more than two years to restore pre-COVID in-person staffing levels at passport offices despite the feds being warned of an increase in travel document demand, according to Blacklock’s Reporter.

Inquiry Of Ministry data, requested by Conservative MP Dan Albas (Central Okanagan-Similkameen, B.C.)., show as late as this past summer more than 11% of staff continued to work from home.

On March 1, 2020, right as the COVID shutdown began, the passport office had 831 employees at public service centres.

By Jan. 1, 2022, only 757 were on the job, which is a 9% reduction.

Passport offices did not reach pre-pandemic staffing levels until all service counters were reopened on May 9.

The Inquiry data has not explained why there was a failure to address demand for passports that led to five and six-hour lineups at Service Canada offices and three month waits for mailed applications.

“We are doing everything we can,” Social Development Minister Karina Gould said July 23.

However, a June 23 briefing note called Passport Productivity And Staffing Measures said it knew last summer it should prepare for an increase in applications.

“In anticipation of increased volumes Service Canada began implementing a staffing plan last July,” it said.

However, the Inquiry said numerous passport offices had fewer staff in January 2022 than during COVID-related shutdowns starting in March 2020.

The Inquiry said prior to the pandemic in January 2020 the passport office issued 229,392 travel documents with monthly processing falling to 2,100 in May 2020.

Last month, 240,980 passports were issued.

“I completely understand the frustration Canadians are facing right now,” Gould said earlier.

Source: Canadian passport offices took two years to return to pre-COVID staffing

Clerk Report to PM 2022 – Service Delivery Language [more candour required]

Like all government reports (save audits and evaluations), the Clerk report focuses on successes, not failures. Certainly, COVID financial support and vaccine procurement are right to be highlighted as overall successes, as are ongoing efforts to increase diversity and representation, as highlighted in the report and data tables.

But its characterization of how the government responded to Afghan refugees following the Taliban takeover presents a far more positive picture than warranted, to be diplomatic.

But looking ahead, curious to see how the recent failures of government service delivery (i.e., passports and immigration) will be treated in the 2023 report, given this 2022 commitment:

Deliver results for Canadians.

We have clearly shown the Public Service’s ability to step up and overcome every obstacle to get things done and deliver real results for Canadians. We have proven what we can do during times of crisis and we have learned much from this. But this has also disrupted our usual lines of work. Now, we must apply what we have learned to how we approach everything —from delivering core programs and services to responding to unexpected challenges. We must build on our enhanced capacity to deliver digitally while holding true to the importance of providing in-person support, to ensure every Canadian gets the service and results they need in a timely manner. Public servants should feel empowered to ask how things could be done better, and they should be supported in taking thoughtful risks in how we implement to achieve results for Canadians. The lessons we learned from the pandemic will help us get there.

Certainly, some honesty regarding the public service service delivery failings will be needed for the 2023 report’s (and Clerk’s) credibility.

To be mischievous, I redrafted this paragraph for the 2023 report to encourage drafters of next year’s report to be more candid regarding areas where the government had significant policy and program failures (“challenges” in bureaucratese):

Deliver results for Canadians – Lessons learned from program failures

We have clearly shown the Public Service’s (in) ability to step up and overcome every obstacle to get things done and (fail to) deliver real results for Canadians. We have proven what we can do during times of crisis (and what we cannot do) and we have learned much from this (particularly from failures in passport and immigration service delivery). But this has also disrupted our usual lines of work. Now, we must apply what we have learned (from successes and failures) to how we approach everything —from delivering core programs and services to responding to unexpected challenges. We must renew focus on service delivery in order to restore trust. We must build on our enhanced capacity to deliver digitally, including real time status updates and greater transparency, while holding true to the importance of providing in-person support (including reducing waiting times and lines), to ensure every Canadian gets the service and results they need in a timely manner. Public servants should feel empowered to ask how things could be done better (without penalty), and they should be supported in taking thoughtful (to be defined) risks in how we implement to achieve results for Canadians. The lessons we learned from the pandemic (service failures) will help us get there.

Source: 29th Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada

Airport, passport and immigration problems ‘should never have happened,’ minister admits

Refreshing admission by Minister Miller (he consistently one of the few ministers who is more candid with respect to government weaknesses and failures). And yes, the task force is more communications than substance as the main issues involve Service Canada and IRCC, which did not need a task force to address. (Airport issues are more complex given the different players involved):

The delays plaguing Canada’s airports, passport services and immigration processes “should never have happened in the first place,” the federal minister charged with co-leading Ottawa’s task force on slashing wait times admitted Monday.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, providing an update on the government’s efforts to tackle pandemic-induced delays across a swath of operations and services, said that despite some improvements, officials were still working to prevent such issues from occurring again.

“I do want to say that nobody should be congratulating themselves for having done their jobs. We are by no stretch of the imagination out of the woods yet. The focus will continue to be on Canadians and the results they expect and deserve from this or any other government,” Miller said at a joint news conference with other ministers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau struck a committee involving 13 cabinet members in late June to get started on reducing wait times at major airports and clear out backlogs that led to sluggish processing times for passport and immigration applications.

As COVID-19 restrictions eased, air passengers passing through Canadian travel hubs have contended with hours-long delays in security screening lines, delayed or cancelled flights, hiccups with the ArriveCAN app and the chaos of lost baggage.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Monday that between January and August, the number of air travellers jumped by more than 250 per cent just as the travel industry faced staffing shortages.

He pointed to the hiring of more than 1,800 new screening officers and weekly meetings with airlines, airports and travel-related government departments as evidence that delays were improving. According to the federal government, between Aug. 18 and Aug. 21, 85 per cent of passengers were screened within 15 minutes. The number of aircraft held at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport also dropped to 47 by the third week of August, down from 370 in May.

Monette Pasher, the interim president of the Canadian Airports Council, said there has been “marked progress” in reducing wait times and cancellations in the past few weeks.

But she told the Star in a statement that other measures, like modernizing screening procedures and reopening Nexus assessment centres amid a backlog of applications for the trusted traveller program, would improve the situation more.

The staffing increases don’t change the fact that airport screeners are “worn out,” said Catherine Cosgrove, the director of communications and public affairs for Teamsters Canada, which represents over 1,000 screeners across the country.

“We can expect to continue seeing difficulties in hiring and retaining screeners and delays throughout the fall,” she told the Star, adding that there still aren’t enough trainers to get new hires working at full capacity.

Addressing frustrations experienced by Canadians trying to renew or apply for passports, Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould acknowledged “the recent demand for passports far exceeded the government’s expectations.”

That was despite unions representing federal workers warning the government in 2021 that passport requests would rise, without the necessary staffing to take on the increased load.

Gould said Ottawa has boosted the number of staff handling the country’s passport program and that workers have implemented a “triage system” to better process applications. Passport services have also been expanded in a number of offices and Service Canada centres.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser also discussed application backlogs within his department, which have left international students and others hoping to immigrate to Canada in limbo.

“Though we have a welcoming nature towards newcomers, our immigration system has faced unprecedented challenges and obstacles that have become larger and have compounded on one another over the past few years,” Fraser said.

He said that owing in part to staffing changes, his department had returned to a “pre-pandemic service standard” in some areas and was on track to reaching its permanent residency and study permit goals.

“We could have sat here and blamed others. We could have blamed airlines, we could blame this, that and the other. But we realized quite quickly that a lot of responsibility did lie on our shoulders,” Miller told reporters.

“To some extent, we were slow in responding to a number of unprecedented … things that Canadians expect to see from their governments.”

Indeed, ministers said Monday that Ottawa has been “scrambling” to contend with a series of challenges outside its control, from the havoc the pandemic wrought on Canada’s travel sector to continuous humanitarian crises that hampered which immigration applications were prioritized.

“We’ve thrown bodies at the problem, which is not the most effective way of doing things. It’s important because it got people their passports in time so they could finally travel after sitting in their houses for two years,” Miller said. “That is not the most effective way … of doing things.”

Source: Airport, passport and immigration problems ‘should never have happened,’ minister admits

Feds announce four new passport service sites as backlog continues

https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2063068227573

Good service improvement move but will have limited impact on backlog. That being said, Service Canada data indicates progress compared to earlier months, although the number of applications is still greater than the number of passports issued.

Hopefully, ESDC/Service Canada and IRCC will publish monthly passport stats (applications and issued) on opendata as per other immigration and citizenship stats:

The federal government is adding new passport service locations across Canada as a backlog in processing applications continues.

Social Development Minister Karina Gould announced Wednesday that people can now apply for and pick up passports at Service Canada centres in Red Deer, Alta., Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Trois-Rivières, Que., and Charlottetown, P.E.I.

That’s on top of five new locations added in July, and Gould expects to bring another seven to nine locations into the program soon.

“I think this is a really important and long-overdue change,” she said in an interview. “Those of us who live in more urban areas, we don’t realize that we’re so lucky to be close to a passport office.”

The additions should make it easier for people outside large centres to access services and ease stress on offices in regional hubs, she added.

No new federal money was required to make the change, Gould said. Resources come out of a revolving fund made up of passport fees. 

Gould said the current crisis and complaints over long wait times have accelerated the work but she was already looking at bringing passport services to more locations before the backlog.

She visited Sault Ste. Marie in April, before media began reporting on complaints over wait times. The local Liberal MP, Terry Sheehan, told Gould that people in the Sault had to drive seven or eight hours to Thunder Bay or Toronto to visit a passport office in person. 

Until Wednesday, there was no passport office on Prince Edward Island.

“So I was starting to already look at who is not close, and how can we fix this,” she said. “And then it became that much more acute.” 

Nearly 1.1 million applications for new and renewed passports have been filed since April as pandemic restrictions loosen and Canadians resume travelling. 

More than one-quarter of those hadn’t yet been processed as of early August.

Government statistics show the system is starting to catch up with demand, as the gulf between the number of passport applications each month versus the number of passports issued is getting smaller. 

Call centre wait times have gone down significantly and “triage measures” were implemented at 17 passport offices to mitigate in-person headaches.

Gould said 442 new employees were hired so far this summer and 300 are already trained and working.

But a large backlog remains.

In the first week of August, the number of passports issued within 40 business days of an application fell to 72 per cent from 81 per cent the week before.

That is largely because of mailed applications.

During the first week of August, passports from in-person applications were issued within the government’s 10-day service standard 95 per cent of the time, a rate that has remained steady throughout the summer.

For mailed applications the service standard of 20 days was met only 40 per cent of the time in early August, down from 53 per cent in late July. The government also warns it can take more than 13 weeks to get your passport by mail.

The overall numbers aren’t materially better than in June, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was forced to respond to growing complaints and called the system’s performance “unacceptable.” 

The week of June 20, 76 per cent of passports were issued within 40 business days.

The processing times also don’t take into account the wait to get an in-person appointment and there are only a limited number of walk-ins available.

Proof of upcoming travel is required to get service within two months at offices with 10-day processing times, including those announced Wednesday.

Urgent services for people who can prove they need a passport within 48 hours are only available in bigger urban centres — Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Gatineau, Que., and Quebec City.

As the backlash over the wait times continues, some reports suggest Canadians are making “fake” travel plans to show to passport officers, then cancelling their flights once their application is in the queue. 

Gould said she’s not aware of this being a “widespread issue” but she has heard about it anecdotally. “I strongly discourage Canadians to do that. It’s unfair, it’s unkind and it’s unnecessary,” she said. 

Gould said at the morning press conference that the government failed to predict to what extent demand would sharply spike earlier this year. She insisted an unexpected glut of mailed-in applications is the main culprit in the passport delays.

Although she wouldn’t comment on the specifics of its deliberations, she said a cabinet committee stood up earlier this year — the Task Force on Services to Canadians — is looking at how to make sure that services under federal jurisdiction are being delivered in “a timely and effective way” that takes the toll of the pandemic into account.

Source: Feds announce four new passport service sites as backlog continues

Passport delays spur some Canadians to game the system with fake travel plans

Ongoing saga. Understandable that some would feel need to game the system or engage line-up placeholders:

Canadians are getting creative trying to cut the long waits for passports that have been dragging on for close to five months after a surge in post-pandemic travel demand overwhelmed the system.

By Aug. 11, a total of 1,092,560 passport applications had been filed this year – with more than 550,000 of those applications flooding in since April.

Service Canada said it’s prioritizing the applications of people traveling imminently, increasing staff and processing sites.

Despite all this, applicants say they are spending thousands of dollars to travel to less-busy passport offices — or even faking travel plans to speed the process to beat the 340,000-application backlog.

Federal officials say they are working to fix the problem.

Fake trips impact entire system

Karina Gould, the minister responsible for passport services, said Canadians are getting their passports on time, and there’s no need to “fake” travel — booking a flight you do not plan to take — to be eligible for Passport Canada’s urgent 48-hour approval mechanism.

“That impacts the whole system. There are a lot of people who did the right thing. They sent off their passports well in advance. Their applications are impacted by anyone who books fake travel,” Gould told CBC in a phone interview on Friday.

She had heard of the practice, but doubts it is widespread.

“I would be very disappointed to hear that, because that would be putting additional pressure on a system that is already pressured,” said Gould.

Meanwhile in Toronto, a man who CBC agreed to call Robert, said he has spent the past 59 days organizing 10 staffers to hold spots in lineups for about 500 absent passport applicants.

He said he has earned up to $1,000 per day offering this service.

No passport number needed to book many online flights

“Most of my customers book fake flights just to get their passports so they can drive across [the border],” said Robert.

“You’re going through more hoops to drive across [the border] than to fly. So what they do is just book a fake flight. It’s usually Toronto to New York or Toronto to Miami, and within 24 hours, they cancel it,” he said of his customers.

Multiple travel agents and Air Canada confirmed that many flights can be booked online without a passport number, and full-fare or business class ticket is often refundable.

Other travellers head to out-of-province Service Canada offices where the lines are not so long, with some citing shorter waits in Halifax or St. John’s.

St. John’s photographer Robert Young often gets called on for passport photos.

He said lately more travellers from other parts of Canada are utilizing the passport processing services in at Newfoundland.

“We’ve always gotten people from the edges of the world — like Pangnirtung (Baffin Island) — but now they are showing up from bigger cities,” said Young.

Government promises fix is working

Gould said lineups have decreased with the hiring of 500 new staffers, extended hours and the prioritizing of applicants with imminent travel plans, within 48 hours.

Back on July 25, Service Canada expanded passport pick-up services, adding five more locations in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and B.C. to the 29 existing passport offices.

In Ontario and Quebec, a business has popped up to deal with the long waits for passport applications. Line standers charge about $40-$60 per hour or a flat fee of about $240 to line up at dawn and hold applicant’s place so they can apply to get a Canadian passport or renewal. (Roger Thompson)

This and other measures – like transferring application files to one of the 300 Service Canada offices upon request — aimed to reduce passport processing waits.

But many who mailed in applications last spring say the turnaround remains sluggish.

It’s difficult to get anybody on the phone or get an accurate status on an application, according to many applicants, including Paula Langley, a Canadian living in the U.S. who applied for a new passport in April.

Updates difficult to get

“The biggest problem is people being unable to get an answer about where in the process their passport is. I think the issue is partially technology. They are likely using outdated software. Other countries let you check your status in an online portal,” said Langley.

“It is very difficult to even get somebody on the phone to ask questions. The 1-800 number just cuts off after the queue of callers gets too high.”

On Passport Canada’s website, delivery is promised in 46 days or six and a half weeks. But anyone needing a passport within two business days can go to specialized sites offering urgent service, if they have proof of travel.

The government’s plan was to ease backlogs, but it’s given some a chance to jump the queue by booking and then cancelling travel.

Broken system

“It’s upsetting,” said Leanne MacLeod who runs Getaways by Leanne out of Toronto and offers passport advice online. What’s not helping, she said, is booking a “fake” trip that you cancel to get travel documents.

“I’ve seen people recommend booking a refundable hotel, then cancelling,” she said. “It’s really what’s holding up the whole process right now. For every person who gets ahead, one gets bumped.”

Taylor Bachrach, the New Democratic Party’s transport critic, said the fact that people are trying to work around the system is evidence it’s not working.

“It shows how frustrated people are and the lengths they are willing to go,” said Bachrach.

“If people are having to ‘game’ the system to get their documents, that shows how broken the system is.”

People in his Skeena Bulkley Valley constituency in Northern B.C. live a 12-hour drive from the nearest passport office.

Bachrach has one staffer who has spent the past several weeks devoted to helping constituents secure passports.

Family trips at risk

“I have a constituent whose family needed to travel to the United States, and we were able to work with the federal government to arrange for the passports to be picked up. But he had to incur $2,000 in extra travel costs to get from here in Smithers, B.C., all the way to Victoria to pick up the passports. … This obviously has a big impact on people.”

Bachrach said these months of passport chaos are “unacceptable.”

“The increased demand for passports was entirely predictable. But the Liberals failed to act even though they had months to prepare for travel to return.”

That lack of foresight has left many Canadians apprehensive, with only a few weeks of summer left. Joseph Ivens of Terrace, B.C., applied to renew his two teens’ passports back on April 4.

The family of five has saved for a trip to Mexico for four years. The flight is booked for Aug. 27, but the passports have not come.

Minister promises family passports are coming

The father of three said he’s made hundreds of calls, several requests for a file transfer and appealed to his member of parliament. He may be forced to travel to Calgary or Vancouver at the last minute to try to secure the travel documents so the holiday is not lost.

“It’s causing my family massive stress with loss of sleep. It’s breaking us,” said Ivens. “I have no recourse.”

Gould, the minister responsible for passport services, told CBC on Friday that Ivens will get travel documents on time.

“He will get his passport. I understand people are stressed, but everyone is getting their passport on time,” said Gould.

Source: Passport delays spur some Canadians to game the system with fake travel plans

Noël: Quand les gouvernements trébuchent [call for policy and program modestly]

Echoes the calls by others but nevertheless important.

Money quote: “le gouvernement fédéral devrait probablement modérer ses ambitions dans ses propres sphères de compétence, en adoptant des objectifs plus réalistes en immigration par exemple, afin d’éviter les échecs récurrents de gestion.”

Je n’étais pas en avance, c’est vrai, mais au début juillet, tard en soirée, je faisais des réservations pour un séjour de camping à Terre-Neuve et en Nouvelle-Écosse. Les réservations pour le traversier entre les deux provinces, opéré par Marine Atlantique, une société d’État fédérale, se sont avérées plutôt simples, tout comme celles pour des parcs provinciaux dans chaque province. Mais pour réserver des sites au parc national du Gros-Morne et à celui des Hautes-Terres-du-Cap-Breton, c’était un peu plus stressant. Avant de pouvoir réserver, il fallait créer une « CléGC (Service de gestion des justificatifs du gouvernement du Canada) », avec un nom d’utilisateur (toutes les variantes de mon nom ont été refusées), un mot de passe, et des réponses à une panoplie de questions. Pas un obstacle majeur, mais un processus un peu lourd pour une si petite tâche. À Ottawa, les missions les plus simples semblent souvent devenir complexes.

Tout ne va pas mal au Canada. Une étude parue à la fin juin dans le Canadian Medical Association Journal montre que, pour les deux premières années de la pandémie, le pays s’est classé parmi les meilleurs pour le nombre de cas, le taux de vaccination et la mortalité excédentaire, avec un bilan économique somme toute satisfaisant. Au Canada, ce sont les provinces atlantiques et le Québec qui ont connu les plus faibles taux de mortalité excédentaire.

Mais quelque part sur l’interminable voie de sortie de la pandémie, le bilan du gouvernement fédéral s’est détérioré. Cafouillage dans l’émission des visas et des passeports, congestion dans les aéroports, délais inacceptables à l’assurance-emploi, accueil difficile des réfugiés, traitement déficient des dossiers d’immigration, les échecs semblent s’accumuler.

Tout ne va pas nécessairement mieux dans les provinces. Il y a même des domaines où les ratés sont habituels, voire pérennes. La gestion des soins de santé constitue un cas patent. Mais dans ce cas, c’est largement une question de ressources. En 2019-2020, les soins de santé représentaient 41,4 % des dépenses de portefeuilles des provinces, comparativement à 31 % en 1981-1982. La même année, la contribution fédérale, par le biais du Transfert canadien en matière de santé, était tombée à 22,4 %. Si les provinces ne font pas mieux en santé, c’est largement parce que d’une année à l’autre elles doivent faire plus avec moins.

Dans d’autres domaines, comme en environnement, il s’agit plus clairement d’un manque de volonté politique. Si le ministre de l’Environnement du Québec « avait les convictions, la volonté, le courage et l’autorité morale nécessaires pour relever le défi de l’urgence climatique », écrivait récemment le chroniqueur Michel David, François Legault ne l’aurait pas choisi pour ce poste.

Mais émettre des visas et des passeports, acheminer des prestations d’assurance-emploi, traiter des demandes à l’immigration ? Le gouvernement fédéral a sûrement les ressources pour accomplir ces tâches et il devrait même être capable de marquer des points dans des secteurs qu’il contrôle depuis toujours, qui sont visibles et significatifs pour les citoyens et ne demandent pas des ressources faramineuses. « Il ne fallait pas être un génie », déplorait récemment l’ancien greffier du Bureau du Conseil privé Paul Tellier, « pour prédire qu’il y aurait une hausse des demandes de passeport » au sortir de la pandémie.

M. Tellier attribue les difficultés du gouvernement Trudeau à la centralisation excessive de la gestion autour du premier ministre et à la méfiance qui en découle entre élus et fonctionnaires. D’autres auteurs blâment le jeu politique, qui amène les élus à négliger les conseils et les actions des fonctionnaires.

Plus plausible, à mon avis, est le constat de l’ancien haut fonctionnaire Ralph Heintzman selon lequel le gouvernement fédéral se désintéresse des services aux citoyens depuis au moins trente ans. Dans la fonction publique fédérale, le prestige est associé aux conseils et à la stratégie, pas à la gestion compétente des programmes en place. Une carrière ascendante se caractérise par des sauts rapides d’un ministère à l’autre, pour appliquer à des niveaux supérieurs des méthodes de gestion largement indifférenciées. Consacrer trop d’années à maîtriser un domaine d’intervention gouvernementale semble manifester un manque d’ambition. Les hauts fonctionnaires voient ainsi les choses de haut. Quant aux élus, ils préfèrent annoncer des programmes plutôt que de veiller à leur bon cheminement.

Mais pourquoi ces travers semblent-ils plus prononcés à Ottawa ? Pour le comprendre, il faut considérer le fonctionnement de la fédération canadienne. Un rapport récent de l’Institut sur la gouvernance rapporte les propos d’un haut fonctionnaire qui note que « nous ne sommes pas un pays cohésif. Nous sommes une grande fédération ». On pourrait interpréter ce constat comme un appel de plus à davantage de collaboration entre les ordres de gouvernement. Mais il semble plus juste d’y voir une caractéristique structurelle, une condition d’existence du Canada.

La figure 1 ci-dessous montre bien pourquoi la gestion quotidienne de services aux citoyens n’est pas le fort du gouvernement fédéral.

Figure 1 : Dépenses du gouvernement fédéral et du gouvernement du Québec, 2021Sources : Comptes publics du Canada ; Comptes publics du Québec

Le gouvernement fédéral est un animal particulier, plus habitué à émettre des transferts aux individus, aux entreprises et aux gouvernements, et à énoncer des normes associées à ces transferts, qu’à livrer des services à la population. L’année 2021 exagère un peu le trait, puisque la pandémie a engendré son lot de transferts exceptionnels. Mais la logique générale ne change pas. Il y a plus de vingt ans, le rapport de la Commission sur le déséquilibre fiscal faisait état de proportions assez semblables.

Les difficultés actuelles du gouvernement Trudeau ne sont donc pas si exceptionnelles. Le gouvernement fédéral demeure principalement une machine à récolter et à distribuer des ressources fiscales et il a tendance à se perdre quand il s’agit de gérer des programmes concrets.

La solution réside donc moins dans une réforme additionnelle de la fonction publique fédérale que dans une meilleure compréhension du fonctionnement de la fédération. En premier lieu, il faudrait améliorer l’équilibre fiscal en laissant davantage de ressources propres aux gouvernements provinciaux, dont la tâche principale consiste justement à livrer des services à la population.

Ensuite, pour des raisons évidentes, il conviendrait de prendre avec un grain de sel les volontés de leadership fédérales sur des questions de compétence provinciale. Notant dans une formulation bien à lui qu’en santé « ce n’est pas juste pitcher de l’argent vers le problème qui va le résoudre », M. Trudeau invitait récemment les provinces à des « conversations » afin de réduire les délais d’attente. Compte tenu de l’état de ses services, il devrait se garder une petite gêne.

En fait, le gouvernement fédéral devrait probablement modérer ses ambitions dans ses propres sphères de compétence, en adoptant des objectifs plus réalistes en immigration par exemple, afin d’éviter les échecs récurrents de gestion.

Mais les difficultés actuelles ne sont pas nouvelles, et elles ne se résorberont pas facilement.

Source: Quand les gouvernements trébuchent

‘Lineups still exist’: Is Ottawa’s task force on passport and service delays a ‘political stunt’? [rhetorical question]

The question answers itself. Such “virtue signalling” only further undermines trust in government:

The union representing passport officers says it hasn’t been approached by the government task force looking at passport delays, as questions swirl around the cabinet committee’s work to date.

Amid massive lineups at passport and Service Canada offices across the country, as well as major delays at airports, the Prime Minister’s Office announced on June 25 the creation of a task force made up of 10 cabinet ministers.

The cabinet committee was specifically instructed to “review service delivery, identify gaps and areas for improvement, and make recommendations to ensure Canadians from coast to coast to coast receive the highest quality of service.”

One month later, the Union of National Employees, which represents passport officers, says it hasn’t had any interaction with the task force meant to tackle the delays still affecting their members every day.

“I have not had any contact whatsoever with the task force as identified just over four weeks ago … I am not even aware if that task force has met,” said the union’s national president, Kevin King.

“There has not been any outreach at all from anyone representing a task force of 10 cabinet ministers.”

King said while there have been improvements, the delays continue at passport offices and there remains a need for more properly trained passport officers to vet applications.

“It doesn’t matter who they hire off the street, doesn’t matter who they bring in from other government departments, doesn’t matter how many other executives they bring in,” King said.

“The fact of the matter is they still don’t have enough passport officers who are fully trained to entitle a passport. It’s that simple, and that’s why lineups still exist.”

He noted that with a cabinet retreat expected in August, “the days are becoming less and less available for (the task force) to have a cohesive plan.”

King said his union and others have, however, been in talks to set up a meeting directly with Social Development Minister Karina Gould, who is responsible for the passport file, possibly in August.

The union representing Service Canada workers, including those who deal with passport intake, did have one meeting with the task force, where they were given updates similar to those given by government departments, said Crystal Warner, national executive vice-president of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union.

“They told us we would be invited to future discussions but haven’t received anything yet,” she said.

There hasn’t been much progress on delays, Warner said, with lineups still happening in some parts of the country. She said the union again had a meeting recently with government to push for more weekend office hours, and some kind of triage system.

“We’re still in a situation where there are ongoing needs at the front end,” she said, mentioning that soon international students will be coming in for SIN numbers. “So we’re waiting for the next influx at the front lines.”

The PMO release in June said the task force would also “monitor the situation” regarding delays at airports.

The National Airlines Council of Canada told the Star it reached out to the task force but never heard back. The Canadian Airports Council said it had been “in touch with PMO on the work of the task force,” but declined further comment.

The task force’s co-chair, Women and Gender Equality Minister Marci Ien, told reporters in June she’d “like to see something tangible in the next several weeks.”

Ien said the committee was first speaking with the ministers responsible for files including passports, immigration and air transportation. (Those ministers are not members of the task force.)

When asked this week about the task force’s work and who else they’ve consulted, Ien’s office provided the Star with a response similar to the PMO’s June statement, almost word for word.

“The recent service delays are unacceptable, and Minister Ien alongside the other members of the task force are working hard to resolve these issues,” the statement said.

“The committee of cabinet ministers has reviewed service delivery protocols, identified gaps and areas for improvement, and made recommendations to ensure Canadians from coast to coast to coast receive the highest quality of service.”

The statement said the actions being taken by each department are contained in regular updates provided by those departments to the public.

An update from Gould last week acknowledged that passport services “are not yet back to normal,” while announcing a new web page that includes steps being taken to improve services and statistics on delivery.

She said passport issuance has remained “relatively stable” over the last five weeks, with between 45,000 and 48,000 passports issued for each of those weeks, with the exception of the week of July 4 when 54,000 passports were issued.

“We’re doing everything we can to ramp that pace up every week,” she said, including adding more staff at Service Canada. The government also announced Monday the addition of five more passport pickup sites across the country.

The task force “is a political stunt that’s more about optics than solutions,” said Conservative social development critic Laila Goodridge, who said it’s “incumbent” on the government to be more transparent about its work.

“We were told when the task force was announced we would see change within weeks, and here we are a month out and only two days ago did we see a small change and it was providing additional pickup locations,” she said.

“If they’re working and they’re trying to find a solution here, they should be letting us know.”

NDP transport critic Taylor Bachrach said thousands of Canadians are still struggling to access basic government services, and that it’s “fair to expect” some level of transparency from the task force.

“The question is why they felt it was necessary to make so much public relations hay out of the formation of the committee. The formation of a committee is not an outcome,” he said. “And what we need here are outcomes and results.”

Source: ‘Lineups still exist’: Is Ottawa’s task force on passport and service delays a ‘political stunt’?

La crise des passeports aboutira-t-elle à une action collective?

Unlikely that there will be a class action given the unlikelihood of success according to the experts cited:

Billets d’avion inutilisables, frais d’annulation d’hôtels, vacances gâchées : les voyageurs frustrés de ne pas avoir reçu leur passeport à temps pourraient-ils intenter une action collective contre le gouvernement fédéral pour se faire indemniser ? Des juristes consultés par Le Devoir estiment qu’un tel recours est possible, mais non sans embûches.

Il est évidemment possible de poursuivre en justice le fédéral, ce qui a déjà été fait à de multiples reprises, établit d’emblée le professeur de droit public de l’Université de Sherbrooke Guillaume Rousseau.

Il rappelle toutefois que, pour utiliser cette procédure spéciale qu’est l’action collective, il faut franchir une étape supplémentaire par rapport aux autres manières d’intenter une poursuite : celle de l’autorisation. Un juge se penche alors sur le dossier et vérifie s’il satisfait aux critères permettant aux personnes s’estimant lésées de procéder « en groupe ». Si oui, le magistrat donne le feu vert à la poursuite, qui peut aller de l’avant.

Le juge ainsi appelé à autoriser une action collective doit par exemple se demander si elle convient à la situation. On peut penser ici qu’elle serait préférable à des centaines ou à des milliers de poursuites individuelles, souligne le professeur Rousseau.

Mais pour avoir gain de cause, il faudra que les voyageurs qui ont subi des dommages (certains d’entre eux ont annulé leur voyage à grands frais ou ont manqué des jours de travail pour faire la file, même la nuit, afin d’obtenir le précieux document de voyage) prouvent que le fédéral a commis une faute.

En droit public, il y a faute quand une personne adopte un comportement qui s’écarte de celui de la personne raisonnable. « Ici, le gouvernement a-t-il agi comme un bon administrateur ? » demande le professeur Rousseau. En d’autres mots, est-il fautif de ne pas avoir eu assez d’employés pour traiter les nombreuses demandes de passeport déposées quand les restrictions sanitaires ont commencé à être levées ? Devait-il allouer plus de ressources au bureau des passeports ? Ou encore embaucher plus d’employés — et plus tôt — en prévision de la reprise des voyages internationaux ?

L’« argument pandémique »

Une telle action collective « n’est pas gagnée d’avance, mais ce n’est pas non plus impossible », juge Me Anne-Julie Asselin, avocate au sein du cabinet Trudel, Johnston et Lespérance, qui pilote de nombreuses actions collectives au Québec.

Selon elle, « la difficulté majeure du dossier » est de prouver la faute de l’État fédéral. Me Alexandre Brosseau-Wery, avocat associé chez Kugler Kandestin, est un peu plus optimiste : « Cela pourrait, à première vue, être un bon recours. »

Mais tous deux soulèvent la même embûche : pour justifier ses ratés et ses retards, l’État pourrait soulever comme moyen de défense la pandémie, qui a envoyé en congé de maladie bon nombre de ses employés et qui l’a forcé à affecter certains d’entre eux à d’autres tâches. Sans oublier la pénurie de personnel qui sévit un peu partout.

Cet « argument pandémique » a déjà été soulevé par plusieurs défendeurs devant les tribunaux ces derniers temps, rappelle Me Asselin. Mais deux ans plus tard, l’argument est-il toujours valable ? Les tribunaux pourraient y être moins réceptifs avec le passage du temps. Et puis, il y a quand même des choses qui auraient pu être prévues par le gouvernement, dit l’avocate.

Me Brosseau-Wery est du même avis : « On peut concevoir que, s’il avait agi diligemment et de manière proactive, il aurait pu mettre en place le nécessaire pour répondre à la demande plus élevée », et respecter ses propres normes et délais de traitement des passeports. De plus, c’est le gouvernement fédéral lui-même qui a levé certaines des restrictions de voyage, ce qui a mené à une forte demande pour ce document officiel.

Un autre argument fort pourrait être utilisé contre le fédéral, avance le professeur Rousseau : l’article 6 de la Charte canadienne des droits et libertés, qui prévoit que « tout citoyen canadien a le droit de demeurer au Canada, d’y entrer ou d’en sortir ». 

Empêcher un citoyen de voyager à l’extérieur des frontières pourrait « être constitutif de faute. » Et quand il est question de droits protégés par la Charte, les tribunaux ne sont pas très réceptifs à des excuses du type « problèmes administratifs », ajoute-t-il.

Témérité et immunité

Par contre, Me Asselin signale que des avertissements sur le site Web du gouvernement enjoignaient aux voyageurs de ne pas acheter de billets d’avion sans avoir leur passeport en main. Cela n’exonérerait peut-être pas entièrement le fédéral, mais pourrait possiblement mener à un partage de responsabilité, estime-t-elle : Ottawa pourrait plaider que l’achat de billets était téméraire. La ministre fédérale du Développement social, Karina Gould, a elle-même soulevé cet argument.

À cela, certains pourraient répliquer qu’à une certaine période, le bureau des passeports ne traitait que les demandes des voyageurs qui avaient un vol partant dans les 48 heures.

Il y a aussi une difficulté supplémentaire quand on poursuit le gouvernement : toute la question de l’immunité dont bénéficie l’État dans certaines circonstances, rappelle Me Brosseau-Wery. Le tribunal doit déterminer si la situation dommageable résulte d’une décision politique (par exemple, dans le cas d’une piste cyclable, décider ou non de la construire) ou opérationnelle (l’entretien de ladite piste afin qu’elle soit sécuritaire), illustre-t-il.

Car l’État bénéficie d’une immunité relative quant à ses décisions de nature politique, sauf en cas de mauvaise foi.

La limite entre une décision de nature politique ou opérationnelle est toutefois souvent difficile à établir, juge l’avocat. Mais cette immunité, si elle est applicable, peut jouer en faveur du gouvernement et faire échec à la poursuite, renchérit Me Asselin.

Source: La crise des passeports aboutira-t-elle à une action collective?

Rioux Soucy: Entrave Canada [passport, visa and immigration delays]

More on backlogs and delays:

L’administration canadienne est-elle en train de s’écrouler sous le poids de sa propre incurie ? Dans l’ombre de la crise des passeports et des longs reports déplorés par d’infortunés prestataires de l’assurance-emploi, d’autres crises — celles des visas, des permis d’études pour les étudiants étrangers et des permis de travail pour les travailleurs étrangers — font rage. Les chiffres et les témoignages colligés par Le Devoir ces derniers jours montrent que tous les indicateurs sont au rouge. Un rouge très foncé.

L’Orchestre de la francophonie a dû se résoudre à faire le deuil de plusieurs stagiaires estivaux, faute de visas obtenus à temps. Une première depuis que l’académie s’est ouverte au monde, en 2009. Le Festival international Nuits d’Afrique, lui, a vu la porte se refermer au nez de sa tête d’affiche. Ces dernières semaines, le passeport de la vedette pop nigériane Yemi Alade l’aura fait voyager en Grande-Bretagne, en France et en Belgique. Pas ici, on a eu trop peur qu’elle et son orchestre s’enracinent au pays.

Dans le milieu culturel, on est familiarisé avec ce type d’embûches, qui n’ont cessé de se multiplier, notamment pour les festivals, force vive et carte de visite mondiale de la culture d’ici. Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada (IRCC) compte sur une Unité des événements spéciaux avec laquelle les organisations ont douloureusement appris à travailler. Elle aurait même développé une certaine expertise, blaguent mi-figue, mi-raisin, certains programmateurs.

Mais à l’image de l’administration canadienne, la fameuse Unité connaît « des délais plus longs que d’habitude », admet candidement IRCC. Avec pour effet que de nombreux invités internationaux du congrès mondial en agroforesterie à l’Université Laval, en majorité des Africains, n’ont pas pu faire le voyage jusqu’au Québec. On craint maintenant la même chose pour la venue de centaines de spécialistes africains à une conférence internationale sur le sida qui s’ouvrira vendredi, à Montréal. Un point commun entre ces déconfitures en série ? Les voyageurs recalés viennent en majorité d’Afrique, ou de certaines zones d’Amérique du Sud ou d’Asie.

Pour un pays qui se drape dans les vertus d’un multiculturalisme tous azimuts, cette frilosité étonne. Elle a toutes les allures d’un système discriminatoire. Une compilation du Devoir montre que le Canada met jusqu’à cinq mois pour traiter une demande dans certains pays. Du jamais vu. Les disparités par pays sont énormes, avec des pics évidents au Moyen-Orient et en Afrique. Si on attend son visa entre 10 et 20 jours au Royaume-Uni ou au Suriname, à l’autre bout du spectre, l’Arabie saoudite remporte la palme des pires délais avec 219 jours d’attente. Le Bénin suit avec 177 jours.

IRCC nie tout parti pris : les demandes seraient examinées de « façon uniforme », et avec « les mêmes critères ». Un exercice semblable mené par Le Devoir pour décortiquer les délais auxquels se heurtent les travailleurs étrangers pour l’obtention d’un permis de travail expose pourtant une répartition en tous points semblable à celle des visas, avec des pics vertigineux de plus d’un an dans certaines régions du monde. Sur le terrain, les employeurs s’arrachent les cheveux, au point de faire parfois une croix sur les pays qui affichent les pires bilans. Trop long, trop incertain, trop paupérisant.

Il est consternant de constater combien la machine canadienne est aveugle à ses propres turpitudes. Non, elle ne voit pas le déséquilibre que nos cartes permettent de voir en un clin d’oeil. Pire, elle s’illusionne en publiant des délais estimés de traitement qui n’ont parfois rien à voir avec la réalité. Les voyageurs qui ont attendu leur passeport ont déjà joué dans ce mauvais film. C’est le cas aussi pour des étudiants étrangers en attente d’un permis d’études. IRCC évalue leur traitement à 12 semaines. Le Devoir a montré ce week-end que des dizaines d’étudiants francophones africains admis dans des universités canadiennes attendent plutôt leur précieux sésame depuis de longs mois, certains depuis plus d’un an.

Le gouvernement Trudeau admet que ses services sont surchargés, mais il refuse l’idée qu’ils soient rendus dysfonctionnels. Il préfère se réfugier derrière le commode paravent pandémique. Sclérosante pour toutes les organisations, la COVID-19 a certainement mis du sable dans l’engrenage. Mais cet engrenage, on le savait déjà passablement mal huilé. En 2017, une étude du World Economic Forum plaçait le Canada 120e sur 136 pays en matière de visa, voyant sa politique en la matière comme l’une des plus alambiquées et opaques au monde. En 2019 ? 125e sur 139.

Avec la pandémie, cette étude annuelle a été mise sur pause, mais on peut parier qu’avec les délais que l’on connaît cette année, le Canada n’a pas pu améliorer son score. Le contrôle des frontières est légitime, mais il y a la manière. Ce n’est pas la première fois qu’IRCC se fait rappeler d’être plus transparent et, surtout, plus juste. À force de reporter ce chantier, le Canada joue sa réputation.

Source: Entrave Canada

My latest: Disconnect between political priorities and service delivery [focus on passports and immigration]

Article below as behind a paywall:

The disconnect between government commitments and its ability to deliver on targets and service levels has never been clearer as the immigration and passport backlogs attest.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser indicated that the 2023-25 plan will likely include a target of 500,000 new permanent residents by the end of the plan. The number of temporary foreign workers will also increase significantly following relaxation of eligibility requirements (length of permits; increase in the cap allowed from 10 to 30 per cent; no longer refusing applications in low-wage occupations in regions with unemployment higher than six per cent), and the large number of Ukrainians arriving in Canada due to the war.

These current and planned increases are happening against the backdrop of large backlogs in permanent and temporary resident, citizenship and passport applications.

The resulting public and political outrage has prompted a mix of short-term measures, both symbolic such as the formation of a task force to improve government services as well as substantive, to alleviate applicant frustration (e.g., triage of passport applications, more online application tracking tools for immigration-related programs).

Why the disconnect?

Public service expert Ralph Heintzman focuses on the comparative neglect of service in relation to policy and program development (“poor cousin”) and how Service Canada never lived up to its promise to overturn that hierarchy in favour of citizen-centred service. As someone who has worked at Service Canada to implement that vision during the early days, we developed tools like score cards to maintain focus on service. Heintzman notes that departments do not focus on citizen and applicant satisfaction as current service failures illustrate.

Donald Savoie, a Canadian public administration expert, looks at the more fundamental issue of the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, and the need for the latter to have clear goals in order to implement effectively. The political level generally has conflicting goals, reflecting different stakeholder interests, and has a bias for the shiny and new, rather than program management, as any party platform will illustrate. Senior public servants are more akin to “courtiers,” rising through policy rather than service-delivery ranks, and have a “limited understanding of how best to help frontline managers deliver programs and public services.”

While his argument that government cannot be managed by using private-sector practices is valid at the policy level, I would argue that private-sector measurement and service practices are needed for the reasons outlined by Heintzman.

When service delivery is essential, as in the case of pandemic-related financial supports, the political and bureaucratic levels focus accordingly, and address the trade-off between speed of delivery and program integrity.

It is unclear the extent to which the public service advised the government that its focus on meeting its political objective of increased immigration would mean a surge in backlogs across programs, given reduced capacity during the pandemic.

The need for digitalization, modernization, and renewal of IT infrastructure was driven home during the pandemic. In the short-term, the IRCC has delivered online applications and updates for some programs. For the longer term, the challenges are greater, given the complexities of programs and government structures, the time involved and the need for effective management, as the Phoenix pay system debacle illustrates.

While the government is ultimately accountable, stakeholders, with some rare exceptions, bear some of the responsibility. Businesses complain about backlogs, but press for higher levels that exacerbate pressures, as do other levels of government, immigration lawyers, and consultants, settlement agencies, academics, and activists. While the general support for immigration across all these groups is laudable and exceptional compared to other countries, it also reveals an unhealthy group think that is unwilling to consider seriously trade-offs between addressing backlogs and increased levels.

Air Canada’s announcement that it is trimming capacity in order to ensure meeting their on-time performance service standards contrasts with the inability of the government to manage immigration and passport demand and related expectations. While I disagree with the government’s overall approach to increased immigration, a more responsible government would engage with stakeholders to explain the constraints and institute a partial and temporary reduction in immigration levels to reduce the backlog.

Politically, it is harder for governments to be open about service delivery issues than the private sector. However, being up front avoids the inevitable drip-drip of revelations of problems that result in greater public and media attention and prolonged controversies.

The challenge for the public service is to “provide stronger advice to the political level on the constraints and trade-offs inherent in public administration” on service delivery issues, always tricky to carry out in practice.

Canadians may not appreciate the abstraction of large numbers, but they do understand the many personal stories of those who are waiting for decisions, whether in passport lineups or applications in the system. As Heintzman, Savoie, and others have noted, government failure to deliver on services or communicate in advance of service delivery issues undermines overall trust in government.

Source: Disconnect between political priorities and service delivery